Sukiyaki - A Love Song and A Hot Pot

Posted on December 10, 2009 at 12:30 AM

The ingredients for sukiyaki         

Sukiyaki-style cut beef

Finally we have some cold weather in Los Angeles. Even during the day, I felt like turning the heater on but I made sukiyaki and steamed rice, and put on a heavier sweater instead.

Sukiyaki is the most famous kind of nabe - it is a beef based dish that is cooked in a cast iron pot. Sukiyaki is also the name of the most famous Japanese love song by Kyu Sakamoto (). This song has nothing to do with the food but a DJ who could not pronounce the original Japanese title "Ue wo muite arukoo" came up with it. To call this love song Sukiyaki, which means to cook on a hot cast iron plate (Suki is a metal farm tool), is absurd but this is back in the sixties when Japanese culture and music were quite exotic and remote. A Newsweek columnist noted that the re-titling was like issuing "Moon River" in Japan under the title "Beef Stew." Still Sukiyaki made it to the top of the US music charts, and Kyu Sakamoto was invited to appear in the Steve Allen Show. (). When I hear the song play I get nostalgic and almost teary eyed. Sakamoto did a lot of charity work for old, handicapped and young people. Sadly, he died in an airplane crash in 1985 but his beautiful song lives.

Back to Sukiyaki, the hot pot. Making Sukiyaki was a great way to use up the left over vegetables from last weekend's nabe workshop. I am the type of Sukiyaki eater who nibbles on the beef, and goes more for the tofu and vegetables which have been seasoned by the umami of the beef and the Warishita sauce.  My boys go for the beef so it balances out nicely.

Tofu, enoki, shungiku, onions, napa cabbage, negi and

shitake mushrooms add flavor, moisture, texture and

nutritious balance to the sukiyaki.

To make Sukiyaki, you can use a traditional Japanese cast iron pot or any heavy cast iron pot or enamelware with enough depth to hold the saucy ingredients.  Since beef is a precious and expensive food in Japan, sukiyaki dinners are a real occasion.  When I was growing up in Japan, we had sukiyaki once or twice a year. The beef is sliced paper -thin and cooked in a sweet soy sauce broth with tofu, shirataki (yam noodles), napa cabbage, shitake mushrooms, and shungiku (chrysathemum leaves).  As a condiment, a raw beaten egg, into which each morsel of food is dunked before being eaten, accompanies the dish.  The raw egg dip is optional, but it gives the dish a special rich flavor.  If you like the sauce sweeter, you can add more sugar.  My grandmother made a Kansai style Sukiyaki where you start the nabe with just beef, which is seasoned with sugar and soy sauce. If you saw the amount of sugar she put on top of the beef, you would shiver. Sugar was as precious as beef in my grandmother's generation. It was a treat to have both beef and sugar in abundance.  My sukiyaki is Kanto-style. Instead of seasoning the sukiyaki with sugar and soysauce at the table, I make a Warishita sauce. It is made with soysauce, mirin, sugar and Konbu seaweed dashi (stock); Some people use sake too. That can't hurt.  Depending on who makes the sukiyaki, it can be very strong or it can be mild like mine.  I don't like my sukiyaki too sweet, so I hold off on the sugar. Like with all nabe cooking, the flavor of the sauce can be adjusted with the broth or seasonings. Make sukiyaki a few times and get used to the rhythm and flavor of nabe.  It's a bit like making music.  

Sukiyaki -simmering in a cast iron pot. The beef and negi are

ready. Other ingredients need to simmer longer. Be careful 

not to overcook the food.


Serves 4 

2 lbs beef sirlioin, sliced paper-thin, sukiyaki style, 1/8 inch thick

6 scallions or 2 Negi, sliced diagonally, about 2 inches wide

1/2 bunch chrysanthemum leaves (shungkiku). ends trimmed, cut crosswise in 1/3

1 tofu cake - grilled tofu (yaki-tofu) or firm tofu (mengoshi)

1 package - shirataki noodles, blanched and cut in half.

8 shitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut into four pieces

4 napa cabbage leaves, sliced crosswise into 2 inch pieces

1 spanish onion, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces

1 bunch enoki mushrooms

Warishita (the Sauce):

3 cups konbu dashi (see recipe below)

1 cup soysauce

1/2 cup mirin

2-3 tbls sugar or more to taste


Konbu dashi:

4 cups water

2 - 3 inch piece of dried konbu

Make the konbu dashi by hydrating the dried konbu in the measured water for 20 minutes. Combine soysauce, mirin, sugar and 3 cups of konbu dashi to make the Warishita.  Put the Warishita in a pitcher.  Set aside 1 cup of plain konbu dashi in a separate pitcher.

Cut scallions or negi diagonally in 2 inch pieces. Wash chrysanthemum leaves well to remove sand and cut them in thirds.  Cut the tofu cake into 8 cubes. Cut the mushrooms into four. Arrange on a platter.

Arrange beef on a plate.

Blanch the shirataki noodles. It can have a unpleasent smell but the blanching will take it away. Drain and cut in half.  Arrange in a bowl.

Set the table and heat the pot on the burner.  Add beef suet (remove from the beef) and use it to oil the pot.  Add the sliced negi or scallions first.  Then add about a quarter potion of the beef, let it cook halfway, and pour in a quarter portion of the Warishita and cook over medium heat, about 2 minutes. Turn the beef and vegetables with chopsticks to cook both sides. 

At this point guests may help themselves to the beef and negi or scallions with chopsitcks, dunking them in the beaten egg (the egg is optional).  

As they are enjoying the beef, add roughly one quarter of tofu, onions, shirataki, napa cabbage, mushrooms to the skillet.  Add more Warishita and let the nabe simmer for a couple of minutes, turning the ingredients to cook both sides evenly.  Add the shungiku and cook for a couple of minutes. If the nabe gets too salty or looks dry, dilute it with about 1/2 cup of dashi. The plain dashi prevents the foods from becoming too salty or sweet, and restores the proper consistency to the sukiyaki.  Don't put too much dashi as it would make the meat and vegetables soggy. Add more meat while the guests serve themselves.  Keep alternating. 

Rice and pickled vegetables are traditionally served with this nabe. 

Start with the negi.  Get is browned on both sides and then

push them to one side to make room for the beef, which

comes next.  

Cook the beef half way through and add the Warishita.

Add the vegetables and more Warishita.  Cook for a couple of

minutes. Turn over  the meat and vegetables to make sure

they are evenly cooked. Let the guests help themselves when

the food is cooked. Don't let the food overcook. If the sauce is too salty, sweet or dry, add a little bit of plain dashi. Continue replenishing the pot.

Break the egg into a bowl.  You can serve the rice at the

same time as the nabe or later, with pickles.

Dunk the beef and vegetables into the raw egg and 

eat.  The raw egg is optional.  Serve Sukiyaki with rice

and pickled vegetables.

Categories: Meat , Hot Pot Cooking - Nabe

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